The Shattered City of Jacmel Slowly Heals from Quake Devastation

Date Publish: 
07/13/10
Region-Country: 
Haiti / America

With its 40,000 residents, the port city of Jacmel lies some 40
kilometres south of the capital Port-au-Prince. With its delightful
gingerbread-style houses, it has long been a vibrant tourist
destination.

But this charming city was badly damaged by the earthquake. More
than 450 inhabitants were killed, 2,500 houses totally destroyed
and thousands were made homeless, according to the local
authorities,

The quake also destroyed many of the city's architectural
treasures, including many of the famous 19th century gingerbread
houses. A large number now lie in ruins, alongside other monuments
attesting to Jacmel's famous past as the capital of Haiti's
South-East.

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However, the inhabitants, known locally as the Jacméliens
have decided to fight back by promoting local assets not destroyed
by the 12 January quake. This includes its beaches, people,
hospitality and artists.

Jacmelian art, and more specifically painting, has gained
world-wide recognition through its most famous son, the artist
Préfète Duffaut. His renowned imaginary city
landscapes have been strongly influenced by the city of Jacmel.

The family of Canada's Governor General, Michaëlle Jean,
also hails from Jacmel and she herself is the niece of the famous
Franco Haitian poet and essayist René Depestre.

Little wonder then that this shattered city should be so close
to the heart of so many Haitians. They also fondly remember its
unique carnival which used to take place every year in mid
February.

"The festival used to attract some 30,000 visitors from all
parts of the country and beyond",  says Dithny Joan Raton, who
works for the city's tourist office. "The other highlights of the
year are the festivals for the patron saints of the city, Saint
Jacques and Saint Philippe".

Although this year's carnival did not take place, thousands of
citizens gathered to celebrate May 1st as best they
could. 

"Our sea and coastline are unique and we will certainly do our
best not to let them go to waste", says Daniel Fouchard, who heads
to city's tourist office, "The fact that so many people gathered to
celebrate May 1st proves that our follow countrymen are determined
to enjoy life, despite the tragedy that befell us".

Despite this will to start afresh, the city bears ugly deep
scars from the quake, six months on.  In places, those scars
have started to heal, with the help provided by organizations such
as the IOM that bring assistance to the homeless that continue to
live in five spontaneous camps that have appeared in and around the
city.

The largest camp, which shelters close to 1,000 families, is
located on a football pitch in the neighbourhood of Pinchinat.

IOM's Ben Oduwa, camp coordinator and camp manager in Jacmel
says those families need to be relocated at the earliest possible
opportunity.

"Families are living in very cramped conditions under khaki
tents provided a few months ago by the Venezuelan army", says Ben
Oduwa. "The heat inside is at times unbearable and the ground turns
into a swamp every time it rains".

Charlotte Charles is a member of the camp's coordination
committee. She hopes all displaced families will soon be relocated
to a better site. "We really hope things will improve on the new
site, because currently when it rains, people have to stand up
under the tents because of the flooding".

Following the artistic tradition of the city, Charlotte, who
wears dreadlocks, shows her paintings to the few people who visit
the camp. "I used to live in an apartment and I owned an artist's
studio in Jacmel. My apartment was flattened and the studio was
badly damaged", says Charlotte.

She adds that she's been living since 14 January in a tent given
to her by the NGO Shelter Box. With tears I her eyes, she says her
life is really hard.

"It's not normal to live like this, with nothing to do all day
long. Before, my life revolved around art, working with young
artists. The 12 January quake has changed all
that".      

She adds that IOM's assistance has been crucial and has helped
camp residents to organize themselves and to learn a lot about camp
management.

Andral Maxito is an unemployed mechanic who found refuge in
Pinchinat after the quake. "IOM helped us to organize ourselves,
which in turn helped us to clearly express our needs to
humanitarian organizations", he says.

In Jacmel, efforts are on-going to try and prepare for the
return of tourists.

"There's work going on to repair a couple of damaged hotels and
to identify those that are structurally sound enough to reopen
soon", says Michaëlle Craan, a tourist industry personality in
Jacmel. "Despite the devastation, the lack of hotel rooms and the
closing of the local airport, we're seeing a few fragile green
shoots. Continued assistance and the resilience of our people will
help us through those difficult times".

© IOM/Haiti Press Network 2010 (Photo : Jonel Juste)